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Could Daisuke Matsuzaka be a hero in the shadows?

02.16.11 at 6:25 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daisuke Matsuzaka is entering his fifth major league season, long removed from life as an intercontinental phenom. One can count with two hands the number of Japanese media members who are in Fort Myers to document the right-hander’s spring, and many of those journalists are biding their time until they relocate across the city to Twins camp, where middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka — the first Japanese player signed by Minnesota — will be arriving.

The spotlight is no longer glaring on the 30-year-old pitcher. In a way that is perhaps unprecedented in his Sox career, he is able to navigate through the Red Sox minor league complex while nearly — nearly – blending in.

“The thing for him that’€™s probably easier is every time he takes the ball now it’€™s not as big as an event, so he can be more of a normal baseball player,” said manager Terry Francona. “Remember that first spring, up in Sarasota, he gave up a hit, we had to about bring in the United Nations. Now he can go out and be a normal pitcher, which I think should be easier.”

Matsuzaka, in his session with the media, agreed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Carl Crawford the new Red Sox steals champ? Jacoby Ellsbury says not so fast

02.16.11 at 5:00 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Competition is a good thing.

Jacoby Ellsbury made it clear that he believes that when it comes to the question of who will win the stolen base crown. Turns out, the main competition might be in his clubhouse all season.

Ellsbury said Wednesday he hasn’t seen or made formal contact with Carl Crawford yet but plans to soon.

“I know I’ll see him a lot this year,” Ellsbury said. “I see him in the next couple of days.”

Between Ellsbury and Crawford, the two have combined to win the last six American League stolen base titles. Of course, Ellsbury set the Red Sox franchise record and led the league in 2009 with 70, one season after leading the AL with 50.

Ellsbury said he has a number in mind for 2011 but wouldn’t offer it up as public knowledge on Wednesday.

“I’ve got my personal goals,” he said. “I’ll keep them my personal goals. They’re always set pretty high.”

The 2009 season capped a run where Ellsbury and Crawford combined to win six titles in seven seasons, as Crawford led the league in 2003, ’04, ’06 and ’07. Crawford had at least 50 steals in each of those four seasons before falling to 25 in 2008. He rebounded with a career-best 60 in the same season Ellsbury swiped 70.

So, the race is on.

“We’ll see,” Ellsbury said. “Any time you have competition, that’s a good thing. We’re both competitors and any time you have that competitiveness, it’s good for both players.”

And who would win a sprint, Ellsbury or Crawford?

“I don’t know,” Ellsbury said, before adding, “I wouldn’t bet against myself.”

We’ll have to wait until Crawford shows up to see what he thinks of Ellsbury’s friendly salvo and if he plans on firing back.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, MLB

The art of selling Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Red Sox pitchers, and why it matters

02.16.11 at 3:21 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — There’s a common theme that’s been ringing through camp in the first two days of workouts for Red Sox pitchers and catchers – Jarrod Saltalamacchia looks just like Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Whether it’s Terry Francona, catching coach and guru Gary Tuck (via Francona) or pitchers Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the sentiment is that the newly tabbed regular catcher will do just fine because of how hard he has worked.

“Tuckster said he’s never seen somebody buy in so much as Salty did,” Francona said. “Tuckster really rode him pretty hard. We talked about the opportunity for Salty, I think he’s actually earned this. He’s worked hard at this. We wouldn’t have just done this out of the goodness of our heart. We want to win really bad. He’s bought into everything. The idea that somebody is dropping a Varitek [comparison] on him is a pretty big compliment.”

What Saltlamacchia is ‘buying into’ is the meticulous way Red Sox catchers go about physically preparing for the season and getting accustomed to the mechanics of each and every pitcher they could handle over the course of a season.

‘€œI think I know him as a person,’€ Beckett said of the still 25-year-old catcher. ‘€œI definitely want to throw to him some. I’€™m looking forward to it. He’€™s got the best catching instructor in the world I think working with him. It’€™s funny. He does things like Tek now. There’€™s a lot of things, and there’€™s not a better guy to follow if you’€™re in that position, I would think. Everybody said the same thing, ‘€˜He looks like Tek when he [catches] us.’€™ That’€™s a pretty damn good guy to look like.’€

“That’s the way it should be,” Lester added Wednesday. “That’s way guys like that fit in around here. We’re don’t like guys that kind of pussyfoot around. We’re used to Tek. You know how he is. He comes out and tells you the way it is. There’s no getting around it, and you listen to what he has to say. You may not agree with it at that time, but you know that when it’s all said and done, he’s probably right. Salty’s got that same kind of mindset.”

Saltalamacchia has made it clear he appreciates the support of the pitching staff and the organization.

“It’s real important,” he said. “Pitchers and catchers are a family. We work together. So,the main thing for me is just get to know them, their situation as far as what they like to do with people on base, with nobody on base, just get into their heads a little bit and be able to work on the same table.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka, gary tuck

Managerial musings: Francona on Ellsbury, Daisuke and more

02.16.11 at 1:54 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — After the Red Sox‘ second day of spring training workouts, manager Terry Francona touched on the news of the day. Naturally, as one might expect from a time of year when games have yet to begin, the topic was primarily about who is and is not camp. Towards that end, Francona was asked whether any position players are expected to be late to report, or if all are expected to check in by Thursday.

“I haven’t checked to see if Manny will be here,” he said with a grin, in memory of the annual tardy arrival of former Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez. Incidentally, Ramirez checked into Rays camp on Wednesday.

Among current members of the Sox, Francona expects all position players to be in Fort Myers by Thursday.

In other news of the day:

Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a 45-pitch bullpen session, surpassing the 30 pitches that most of his teammates logged. The right-hander did that with the Sox’ blessing, however. Whenever possible, he wants to throw at some length, and the Sox are willing to sign off on that so long as his physical condition suggests that he can tolerate it.

“He’€™s obviously worked very hard. You can tell by the way he came into camp. We’€™ve always told him, it’€™s no secret, he wants to throw more, generally, than most of the guys we’€™ve had because of his background. We always told him, if he could withstand that, we had no problems with that,” said Francona. “Today he threw 45 pitches. Most of our other guys threw 30. That’€™s because he’€™s in good shape. We have no problems with that. If that’€™s a comfort zone for him but he can handle it because he’€™s strong enough, I think that’€™s terrific.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: brandon duckworth, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek

Jon Lester over ‘bitter taste’ from just missing 20 wins

02.16.11 at 1:06 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The most consistent Red Sox starting pitcher over the last three seasons admitted Wednesday that it took a little while to get rid of the sour taste of just missing out on 20 wins in 2010. Jon Lester was denied becoming the first Red Sox lefty since Mel Parnell in 1953 to win 20 games when he lost his final start on Sept. 30 at Chicago in an 8-2 setback to the White Sox.

“Absolutely, it was the last start, it was the last thing I remember,” Lester said when asked if he recalls that last start. “A little bitter taste in my mouth this offseason, took a little while to get over it. It’s a new season, move on and worry about some other things now and try to do it all over again.”

Still, Lester finished 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA in 31 starts, striking out 225 batters in 208 innings.

Lester has posted seasons of 16-6, 15-8 and 19-9 since 2008, with a career ERA of 3.55. He has fanned 225 batters in each of the last two seasons and has surpassed the 200-innings mark over the last three seasons.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Jon Lester, mel parnell, MLB

Scott Boras would be proud of Jacoby Ellsbury

02.16.11 at 9:48 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Without even being in the room, you could almost hear superagent Scott Boras applauding with every word his client Jacoby Ellsbury spoke Wednesday morning.

The Red Sox center fielder was asked two things repeatedly in various forms. Does he feel healthy? Does he resent the criticism he received time and time again for playing just 18 games in 2010 due to broken ribs suffered in the first week of the season?

After a while, even Ellsbury had to smile, realizing reporters wouldn’t let the issue go without several attempts.

“I’ve put it in the past, moving forward and excited about 2011. I’m moving on, moving on to 2011,” said Ellsbury.

He was even asked if he heard and saw the criticism laid at the feet of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for coming out of the NFC Championship due to a knee injury.

“Yeah, yeah I did,” Ellsbury conceded. “No real comments on that either. I’m going to sound like a broken recorder.”

He also said he ‘feels good’ several times in his 12-minute chat, adding he isn’t worried about his ribs and is completely recovered from the collision with Adrian Beltre in Kansas City last April 11 that wreaked havoc with his season and landed him on the DL three times, with his last game coming on Aug. 13.

He batted just .192 in those 18 games, with more steals (7) and RBIs (5) than runs scored (10).

And like Beckett on Tuesday, he didn’t want to look back to the sub-par 2010 or the criticism of his toughness that came with it.

Instead, Ellsbury wants Red Sox Nation to know that he’ll play with the same wreckless abandon that was his trademark prior to last season, diving for fly balls in center and head-first slides into bases.

“I’ll be able to play with natural aggressiveness, just like I’ve always played,” Ellsbury said. “I’m not worried, I’m not worried at all. It’s not like I’m coming off a major surgery or anything like that. If anything, they should be stronger. Anytime you break something and let it heal, it’ll be stronger.”

Read More: Adrian Beltre, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Bears, Jacoby Ellsbury

Prospect Watch: The growth of Oscar Tejeda

02.16.11 at 9:47 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — There was a time when Oscar Tejeda looked lanky and even a touch frail. When he signed with the Red Sox as a 16-year-old in 2006, he weighed 177 pounds, but after making his U.S. debut as a very impressive 17-year-old in 2007, he required offseason surgery to repair a minor heart defect that all but stopped him from working out. He subsequently developed a staph infection that further limited his activity.

That time now seems like a distant memory. His manager in Salem in 2010, Kevin Boles, said that opposing managers in the Carolina League would approach him last season to comment on Tejeda’s maturing physique, and they surely would have more to discuss if they were to see him this spring, following an offseason in which he went home and played for the Gigantes of the Dominican Winter League. Tejeda, now 21, appears robust, weighing a muscular 205 pounds this spring. He has also grown a couple inches since signing, and is now roughly 6-foot-2.

So the question is obvious as he stands on the field. What player does he look like?

Terrell Owens?” mused one talent evaluator.

The fact is that there aren’t a lot of second basemen who look like the 21-year-old prospect. While there are a couple of outliers who have played the position (Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano come to mind), physically, he looks more like an outfielder — if not someone who belongs on a football field.

“Every time he steps on the field, you’re like, ‘Whoa,'” noted Sox minor league instructor Chad Epperson. “You notice him.”

But Tejeda’s 2010 season was noteworthy for more than his physical growth. In a season in which he shifted from the left side of the infield (shortstop and second) to the right, he had a tremendous season for Salem, hitting .307 with a .344 OBP, .455 slugging mark, .799 OPS, 48 extra-base hits (including 11 homers) and 17 steals in 126 games.

Many were stunned to see the ball jump off of his bat so consistently. Boles raved about the bat speed he can generate with his hands, a trait that inspired (unfair) comparisons to Alfonso Soriano when he was signed out of Latin America.

Entering 2010, Tejeda had eight career homers and 64 extra-base hits in 263 career games. In fewer than half those games (126) in 2010, he exceeded that longball total and came within shouting distance of the multi-base knocks. The performance surprised some — though Tejeda was not among them.

“I hit the ball pretty good in [batting practice],” he said. “If you have power in B.P., you can have power in the game.”

Tejeda noted that he made adjustments at the plate that proved instrumental in his improved results. He eliminated a leg kick, allowing his swing to be shorter and more direct to the ball.

“That way, I could recognize the pitch — curveball, slider, whatever the pitch,” he said.

Meanwhile, he embraced playing second base. Tejeda said that, after playing solely on the left side of the infield from 2007-09, he felt that playing on the right side of the infield was “easier” and permitted him greater comfort. Sox officials noted that he did not merely accept the switch but instead embraced it, and that his actions in the field were natural.

That said, at times, his size is a detriment at the position. One official noted that he will have to learn how to “play smaller” at second if he wants to stay at the position. Another suggested that, in his first year at second base, he remains too upright and long when coming across the bag, but that is something that they expect him to be able to fix if he continues the work that he invested in the position last year. That said, if there are any restrictions on his ability to remain at second (whether due to his approach or because there isn’t an opening for him at the position — where the Sox, of course, have Dustin Pedroia entrenched for years to come), he would appear capable of making the transition to the outfield. But that is a matter for another time much further down the road.

Tejeda — who will likely open the year in Double-A Portland — was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster this offseason, but he has not appeared out of place in big league camp, despite the fact that he is the second youngest player (behind only Stolmy Pimentel, who is about five weeks younger) in the clubhouse. Instead, he seems eager to take advantage of the opportunity to show his talents in a brighter spotlight.

Read More: Alfonso Soriano, oscar tejeda, Robinson Cano,
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